Doin’ It Well
What do you want to accomplish when you’re creating a game? Do you want to make a splash, create something that moves a genre (or the industry) forward, and is full of innovation? Or would you rather take an existing formula, put a personal touch on it, and just do it really really well?
Both have their merits, but I think the general public is often much more interested in those flashy games that try to do something new. Hell, I’ll admit, I’m a sucker for it myself. I mean, I do love innovation and all.
However, sometimes it’s nice to go back to something time-tested and familiar. A game that isn’t pushing boundaries isn’t a bad thing and, when done especially well, can often be just as refreshing as something brand new.
Developed by doinksoft and published by Devolver Digital, Gato Roboto was released on May 30th, 2019, for PC and Switch. The Switch version was played for this review.
Kitty to the Rescue
Gato Roboto kicks off with a spaceship pilot named Gary receiving a distress call from a nearby research base. When attempting to land and investigate, his cat Kiki jumps on the ship’s control panel, causing him to crash land.
Gary winds up stuck in his ship after the crash, but Kiki manages to get through it unharmed. With Gary out of commission, it’s up to his cat to figure out what is going on in this base now filled with weird creatures and seemingly-sentient animals.
The game doesn’t really spend much time on story; this intro is pretty much all there is to it. You can come across some computers during your exploration that contain some bits to flesh out the game world’s backstory, but it’s nothing really in depth or gripping.
Really, though, it doesn’t need to be. What plot there is sets up a basic premise nicely, and…seriously, the game is about a cat in a mech suit. We really don’t need to know anything other than that to be interested.
A Game of Cat and Mouse
Gato Roboto presents itself as a kind of Metroidvania-lite, with much more emphasis on action than exploration. Most of the time you’ll be playing as the aforementioned mech-suited cat, exploring various parts of an abandoned research base and fighting off all kinds of weird creatures. And frogs.
The controls are mostly what you’d expect: jumping, shooting, and firing off some missiles. Everything is pretty tight and responsive, and I was able to pull off some interesting acrobatics and jumping off my own missile explosions with ease.
The most unique aspect with Gato Roboto is the ability to climb out of your mech suit and explore the world as a cat. Unfortunately, while your mech suit can take some punishment, your squishy cat body can not, meaning one hit kills if you’re out of your mech.
Despite that fact, much of the game leans on the easy side. Really, the only times I ever died was when I was controlling the cat out of the mech. The only really frustrating part of the game was a boss fight that you have to play through as a cat. Getting the boss down to the end of its health only to take a hit and have to start over gets old fast.
Really, the game stays relatively simple throughout…not simple as in “easy,” but simple as in “uncomplicated.” Aside from running and shooting, the only other moves you get access to is a dodge dash and a spin jump. The fun comes from the ways the game makes you put these few mechanics to use, often in combat situations. As you progress through the game, you’ll often find yourself in situations where you have to fight a swarm of enemies that each have to be dispatched in certain ways, and juggling your way through your arsenal to do so just feels satisfying.
The only real disappointment I have with the game is in the exploration. Gato Roboto does position itself as a Metroidvania-style game, what with multiple areas, finding abilities to get to new areas, a very familiar style of map screen, and so on.
In practice, the game is very linear, and it doesn’t do much to hide that fact. You get an intro area, a “hub” that leads to three more smaller areas, and then the final section of the game. Each area essentially shepherds you down a singular path to find the upgrade within it, then leads you on another path to return to the hub. Sure, you can spend some time running around to find optional and secret areas after unlocking parts of your arsenal, but it really just doesn’t feel like you’re doing much exploring on the main game path.
The game seems like its encouraging you to go find those hidden areas though, with very prominent timers and completion percentages easy to access. I managed to finish my run of the game at just over two hours…but I only had 50% completion. This was including seeking out some hidden areas to complete a few maps. If you’re a completionist, you may be able to squeeze a couple more hours out of this game.
The most obviously striking thing about Gato Roboto is its aesthetic – the game is presented completely in black and white. Doinksoft went really old-school here, with full-on tile-based pixel design. Even with its limited pallet, this game is an attractive one. The tiles are surprisingly well detailed, crafting some interesting environments when put together.
Saying the game is “only black and white” though would be disingenuous, though, as there are unlockable palette swaps strewn throughout the game’s world. Upon finding these, you can change up the game’s presentation to Game Boy-style green to pink and pretty and even eye-piercing Virtual Boy nightmare.
The soundtrack and sound design, though, I didn’t find to be nearly as interesting. Music mostly just faded into the background for me, and I can’t say there were any tracks that stood out as notable. When it comes to sound effects, the sounds made during dialogue and the yelps some enemies make when hit are both somewhat grating.
Simple Yet Effective
Overall, Gato Roboto is a fun little action game with a bit of exploration that doesn’t do all that much gameplay-wise to stand out from the pack. However, I don’t want that to be taken in a bad way; this game is a perfectly solid and entertaining experience, and I had a great time running through it. It doesn’t really offer up anything new, but not every game needs to.
The visual presentation is easily the most interesting part of the game. Creating something so attractive with such a minimalist approach is something I definitely give the devs credit for.
As an entertaining romp at a budget price (running $7.99 on the Nintendo eShop at the time of writing), Gato Roboto is definitely a title worth checking out. If you’re a completionist or into speed running, that goes doubly so.
Review copy provided by Devolver Digital for Switch. Screenshots taken by reviewer. Feature image courtesy of Devolver Digital.